The single-judge bench of Justice Shaji P Chaly over-ruled the Centre’s objection that the documentary “might affect law & order”, even as per the I&B Ministry’s own guidelines.Newsclick Report 25 Jun 2019

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New Delhi: In a big boost for filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and the organisers of the 12th Documentary and Short Film Festival, and over-riding objections by the Centre, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday allowed the screening of the documentary film, Vivek (Reason) at the ongoing festival in Kerala.

The documentary takes a critical view of the rise of hyper-nationalism and Hindu extremist organisations, such as Sanathan Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat, especially in the light of killing of rationalists and activists such as MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and Gauri Lankesh. It was awaiting the mandatory censor exemption from the Information & Broadcasting Ministry for it to be screened at the festival.  As per the festival schedule, it was to be screened on June 24.

“The Court observed that the apprehension that the documentary might affect law and order was not a valid reason to withhold sanction. Even as per the guidelines framed by the I&B Ministry in this regard, the screening of the documentary is permissible,” said a report by LiveLaw.

According to the report, the single-judge bench of Justice Shaji P Chaly, who passed the order, also made it clear that the documentary should not be screened elsewhere

The order was passed by the court in response to a writ petition filed by the Kerala State Chalchitra Academy, which is organising the film festival, along with Patwardhan as the second petitioner.

On Monday, festival director Kamal, told Newsclick that since the movie was available on YouTube and had already been viewed by many individuals, “the government can’t straightaway deny censor exemption.”

“We are waiting for permission since the last 20 days. Even after sending the ‘detailed synopsis’, no reply has been received from the ministry. As an activist and a filmmaker, I protest this attitude of the ministry,” he had said.

According to the LiveLaw report, on June 24, the I&B Ministry had responded saying that it was withholding clearance for the film as “theme of the documentary was sensitive in nature and may have law and order ramifications”.

Challenging this reasoning, the petitioners had argued that this reasoning did not stand ground as a valid reason, and had cited a 2017 judgement of the Kerala High Court that had quashed the Centre’s denial of sanction to screen the documentaries, March, March, March and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, made on the Jawaharlal Nehru University protests and dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide.

According to Bar & Benchthe petitioners had argued that the denial of exemption from certification under Section 9 of the Cinematograph Act is “arbitrary, illegal, vitiated by political and extraneous considerations besides being violative of Article 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and the principles of natural justice.”

 They further argued that the denial of exemption was in “contravention to Central Government’s 2006 Office Memorandum which provides guidelines for considering requests for exemptions as well the Cinematograph Act.”

It may be recalled that the I&B Ministry, in its order dated June 17, had granted exemption to 160 films, barring Vivek (Reasonby Patwardhan, after which the festival organisers had appealed to the Joint Secretary in the Ministry. The request was once again turned down on June 14, the date when the film was scheduled to be screened, as per the festival calendar of events.